Whatever the challenge is for you about riding, whatever you lack confidence in doing, be it cantering, jumping, trail riding, competitions or maybe even just mounting your horse, chances are you are experiencing some unpleasant feelings such as fear, anxiety, worry, terror or panic. You are probably experiencing an increase in your heart rate, your stomach churns, your mouth goes dry, maybe you hold your breath or start to sweat. Just think about whatever your challenge is and imagine you are going to do it right now, how are you feeling? Are you having an unpleasant response?
What is happening to you is the flight or fight response where your body goes into survival mode, instinctually you believe, albeit on a subconscious level, that this is a life or death situation and your body prepares to run. The thing is when you go into this mode the learning part of your brain shuts down as your brain and body are simply helping you survive the experience. When the learning part of your brain shuts down you cannot learn, you cannot increase your confidence, you can only get through your current experience. This is why you can be scared about going on, for instance, a trail ride, you ride it, nothing happens, it was ok but the next time you want to go you have the same fear response.
In the riding world we often set ourselves unrealistic expectations. What do I mean by this? Let’s take cantering as an example. We may be afraid of cantering, or even terrified because we believe that when we do canter it has to be for the entire circuit of the arena or all the way across a field. What we are asking is too much and it magnifies the fear. How about, when we canter, we aim for just one stride and then we come back to trot? Are we confident at walk and trot already? If not then why are we pushing ourselves up into canter?
If you want to start building your confidence then you have to start breaking what you want to achieve down into small, baby steps. Figure out what you are confident at and when your fear starts to rise; now how can you make the very next step you take easy for yourself? How can you set yourself up to succeed? Back to the cantering example if you set your next step as asking for one stride of canter and you achieve that successfully you feel fantastic and will probably want to do it again. If you set the step as a whole circuit of the arena and you freak out after getting only half way, you feel like a failure and beat yourself up and are far less likely to do it again. Make what you ask of yourself small in any one session and if you achieve more that’s a bonus, you will feel like a winner and like you are actually beginning to get somewhere.
If the step you set yourself causes you to go into survival mode then it is too big and you need to figure out how to make it smaller and more achievable. Back off from what you are doing and re-think. Always pay attention to how you are feeling and how your body is responding to what you are asking of it.
The other key thing is to stick at that next step until you feel comfortable, confident and calm. Then, and only then, do you move on up to the next step and you stick at that one until you feel confident and so on. This way you are slowly stretching your comfort zone like blowing up a balloon one breath at a time rather than blowing it up in one go to the point it bursts. The ideal learning zone is the ‘I’m not sure but I’ll give it a go’ feeling which is this side of the flight or fight response.
To sum up, think small and achievable, feel uncomfortable but stay this side of survival mode, repeat each step until you feel ok and then move on. Take the time it takes and most of all remember to smile, laugh and have fun!
Happy New Year to you! It’s that time of year when we have the post festivities slump, the weather is rubbish (in the UK for sure), days are short, it rains, snows, it’s windy and cold and let’s face it, riding becomes less appealing.
Well, NOW is the time to make your mind up what you’re going to do about your confidence issues this year. It’s a fresh start, the whole year stretches before you and are you going to let it be the same as the last?
The thing is, once we make our minds up something HAS to change and WILL change, we are halfway there. Once you give your mind a clear direction, once your mind is made up, your subconscious will start searching out opportunities for you to make it happen. You simply have to open yourself up to the possibilities that are out there… ‘But I don’t have the time or the money, I don’t know how!’ I hear you cry. Yes, those are all fine excuses for keeping yourself stuck! Beware of the ‘but’ word as it erases everything that goes before it ‘I really want more confidence but’ simply means you don’t really want more confidence, not now anyway. So why wouldn’t you? Believe it or not fear is what is likely stopping you:
What do you really want to change this year? Who do you want to become? What would you love to be able to do with your horse this year?
Where are you now? What is the first little, tiny, baby step you can take to move you towards what you really want? If the step you come up with seems daunting then how can you make it easier? What help do you need? Who can you ask? Where can you find it? How can you make time to take that first step and then the one after that and the one after that? If money is a challenge then what resources are out there that are free? How much can you invest in yourself? Maybe you can start with a self-help book or a hypnotic recording, something small just to get you started.
How can you motivate yourself and keep yourself on track? Maybe you can report your progress to a friend on a regular basis or give yourself a treat each time you achieve your next step.
In conclusion, make your mind up what you want to change and do something about it, now. What are you waiting for?
To get you started you may want to join my Facebook group for support and advice, click HERE to request membership.
The thing about disappointment is it comes from expectations… we tend to expect things to go a certain way and when they don’t all kinds of unhelpful emotions follow. This is true of life let alone when we throw a large, independent thinking prey animal into the equation…yes, our horse!
As many of you know I struggled, and I mean really struggled, with my horse Millie for the first few years we were together. It’s been a heck of a journey; we have both grown and learnt a lot. I have spent thousands of hours (well it feels like that) building our bond and connection, stepping up to being a leader and, most of all, I have been patient. I really thought we were there, sorted, it was all going to be sunshine and roses from here….yeah, right.
Never underestimate what a difference a change of environment can make to your horse. I have gone back to being on a livery yard after 6 years of complete independence, that in itself is a challenge for me. As far as Millie is concerned she is now living out in a herd of around 22 horses for the first time in her life (up until now it’s just been her and my other horse Sally). I believed she would be much more relaxed due to her living more naturally and I would be able to easily ride her up the gallops they have there and sit on top of the hill admiring the view. Well…..my Millie had other ideas.
Yes, Millie is very relaxed, loves being with herd, so much so that she is reluctant to leave! My leadership is being tested again, after all, why would a horse want to be with one human when it can be with a huge herd of horses? Let me tell you about the other evening (not a horror story I promise)…
The herd were on top of the hill (part of their 80 acres) which has trees and shrubs on its banks so, once up there, they cannot be seen from the lower pasture. I needed to get my Millie in for the night to keep my poorly, elderly horse company and so off I went, huffing and puffing to the top of the hill to find her. Now, she is still caught easily and often comes to me as soon as she hears or sees me so that’s fantastic…I then came to lead her down the bank and away from the herd. At first she simply kept stopping (something I have overcome in the past), we were in an area where there really wasn’t much room for us other than to move in single file. We got a certain distance from the herd and she then, well, went nuts. I understand why and, given more space and more time, I could have helped her through it but I needed to plough on. My confidence on the ground with Millie is usually 10 out of 10, in that moment it plummeted to 1, I was in a dangerous situation and I simply chose to focus on my destination and get there as soon as I could. Luckily, as soon as we got to the lower pasture and she saw Sally she came back down to earth and we also had a lot more space.
Whether I handled this correctly or not is irrelevant, it was what it was, I got through it and we both survived. However I cannot say here exactly the thoughts that were going through my mind as many expletives were involved. I could not believe that after 13 years I was experiencing behaviour I had not witnessed in a long, long time, I felt like I was back to square one.
The thing is, stuff happens, unexpected stuff and it’s all there to teach us and challenge us. Sure, it’s unpleasant at the time but all is not lost.
What if we simply go with the flow and let go of expectations?
What if we embrace the ‘stuff’ and see it as the perfect learning opportunity?
What if everything is happening at exactly the right time and in the right way for us to grow and develop?
What if your horse is giving you the experience you need right now to ultimately move you forward?
In that brief moment, and for a few hours after, I felt like giving up and letting her turn feral. All those years of patient training and I get this? But the next day I picked myself up, dusted myself off and figured I haven’t finished with my life lessons yet (will I ever?) and Millie continues to be the greatest teacher I have ever had.
So you see, it happens to all of us at some point, high expectations followed by disappointment, frustration and many other emotions and you know what? It’s ok, it really is. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, remember to breath and you will get there. Maybe not in the way you expect, or at the time you expect so for now, just go with the flow.
Written by: Caroline Andrews, Horse Rider Confidence Specialist